The Indian general elections are all about the heat, noise and crowds, but with the first phase of polling set for today, there’s a considerable glamour quotient to proceedings this year – more than a dozen Bollywood celebrities have thrown themselves into the fray.
Some, despite being armed with sunblock lotions, umbrellas, and hand fans, are wilting. Others are revelling in the adulation.
For the political parties, having a celebrity to campaign for them, even if their reputations as film stars are waning, pulls the crowds in and generates excitement.
Here are 10 of the candidates in the spotlight.
Gul Panag, Aam Aadmi Party
Gul Panag might be seen by some as a has-been actress looking to launch a new career but she is still highly regarded in the industry. The former Miss India (1999) is still a well-known actress and model. She has chosen to stand for the Aam Aadmi Party, a bit of a misnomer for someone with her looks, fame and wealth. The tech-savvy 35-year-old is cleverly trying to convert her formidable online fan base into electoral votes.
Kirron Kher, Bharatiya, Janata Party
Panag is standing against the actress and talent-show judge Kirron Kher, who is an old hand at politics and the wife of the actor Anupam Kher. The 59-year-old, who is always seen in gorgeous saris and jewellery, recently complained of women candidates being constantly judged on their appearance.
Bappi Lahiri, Bharatiya Janata Party
The 61-year-old musician is perhaps best known for the umpteen gold medallions nestling on his chest. Bappi Lahiri is more famous for his love of the precious metal than for his political beliefs. He was responsible for disco tracks in films in the 1980s and 1990s, and has turned to politics for a second wind.
Raj Babbar, Congress
The actor Raj Babbar has stood before for the ruling Congress Party. A seasoned campaigner, the 61-year-old has been pouring abuse on the man likely to be India’s next prime minister, Narendra Modi. Babbar became briefly notorious last year for saying that 12 rupees (less than Dh1) was “enough for a common man’s meal in Mumbai”.
Moon Moon Sen,
An Oxford graduate and once the heartthrob of millions of fans, the Bengali actress, 67, has been complaining already about her skin “darkening” from campaigning outdoors all day. She tries to plan her rallies to avoid the midday sun. She also declines offers of street snacks, fearing for her stomach. This will really go down well with the population, we think.
Paresh Rawal, Bharatiya Janata Party
An actor who does comedy and villainous roles equally well, the 51-year-old Paresh Rawal has been making waves in the election by playing on Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins. “She is Italian. I am an Indian,” he said at a recent rally. He says he will continue his film career if elected as a member of parliament and plans to commute between New Delhi and Mumbai.
Hema Malini, Congress
The original Dream Girl of Bollywood, Hema Malini took to politics when she stopped getting interesting roles. The 66-year-old is blessed with eternally youthful looks – a politician once famously said that he would build roads in his state “as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks”.
Vinod Khanna, Bharatiya Janata Party
Another veteran of films and politics and once one of the best-looking men in Bollywood, the 68-year-old Vinod Khanna is now overweight and clearly struggling with a punishing schedule. Like most celebrities, he trotted off to a temple to seek the blessings of a priest before launching his campaign. Trivia alert: at one time Khanna was seen as the emblem of masculinity, especially after featuring in a 1986 advert for a brand of soap.
A self-made actress famous for her appearances in reality TV shows, Rakhi Sawant, 36, is a firebrand. She recently took to wearing glasses in an effort to come across as serious. Trivia alert: when she filed her nomination papers as a candidate, she wrote “illiterate” under qualifications.
The director and actor Mahesh Manjrekar, 59, is contesting against Sawant in Mumbai. At a recent rally, Manjrekar was stopped by police from entering because he had no ID, but the celebrity didn’t make a fuss and said the police were “just doing their job”.